The 39th installment of Sietsema's Three Great Cheap series
La Salle Dumpling Room — A dim sum craze is creeping across the cityscape — not rapidly, like poke, but gradually. This Chinese comfort food canon includes all sorts of dumplings, turnip cakes, congees, and other snacks that make perfect brunches and light lunches at discount prices. Now, new neighborhood dim sum spots are appearing, and offering it for dinner as well.
One such is La Salle Dumpling Room, which sounds like an effete French tea room, but is really named after the street that intersects Broadway in Morningside Heights where the restaurant is located. Made in-house and available in three permutations, the Shanghai soup dumplings are excellent. They’re smallish and perhaps more thick-skinned than some, but memorably good nonetheless. Steamed or fried, five kinds of pot-stickers are available, along with sesame noodles, ramen, and “beef scallion pancake wrap,” which is a slightly sweet, meat-stuffed bing. A separate section offers Chinese-American stir-fries, but the Columbia students who frequent the place prefer the soups and dim sum. 3141 Broadway, Manhattan, (212) 961-0300
Christina’s Polish — The far-ranging Greenpoint landscape used to be strewn with Polish lunch counters, offering Eastern European comfort food at rock-bottom prices. A dinner of fried pork shank, coleslaw, and two scoops of mashed potatoes would run you less than $10, and you’d walk away stuffed. Today, Christina’s is one of the few left, conveniently located right on Manhattan Avenue near Greenpoint Avenue G stop. The blintzes, pierogi, tripe soup, and stuffed cabbage are all up to snuff, and the beef goulash served with potato pancakes is particularly recommended. Don’t order breakfast without considering a side of kielbasa: the garlicky flavor is as satisfying as bacon. 853 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn, (718) 383-4382
Swagath Gourmet — The airy, elegant and pastel-colored Jersey City branch of an Edison, NJ mainstay (founded 1989) specializes in the dosa and idli cuisine of South India and the menu is strictly vegetarian and mainly vegan. The dosa lineup lists several unusual varieties, including the rarely seen menthya dosa, which presents the unstuffed and freshly made pancakes swirled with fenugreek leaves and seeds, so they look like pinwheels. There are all sorts of rice-based dishes, too, including the mellifluously named bisi bele bath — with lentils and vegetables — as well as puliyogare rice, which mixes tart and sweet tamarind with the grain. For those who crave familiar vegetarian Indian fare, northern specialties like palak paneer (spinach and cheese) and baingan bharta (eggplant curry) are also offered. 665 Newark Ave., Jersey City, NJ, (201) 984-0237